Shoveling Snow Safely

Friday, January 4, 2019

It’s that time of year! When the snow comes, you’ll need to clear off your driveway, sidewalk, and car, but by doing so you can injure yourself and stress your heart. Use the correct equipment and technique to avoid the risks.

Correct Equipment

Wear layers of warm clothes. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends a hat, a scarf or face mask, long sleeves that are snug at the wrist, mittens, and water-resistant coat and boots as your outer layer. Underneath, wear several thin layers rather than one thick layer. If you start to get too warm, remove layers.

Shovel or snow blower. Choose a sturdy, lightweight shovel that isn’t too big for you. It’s better for both your back and your heart to do several smaller shovel-fulls to clear an area rather than just a few heaping ones. If you use a snow blower, make sure you know how to use it and avoid getting gasoline on your skin.

Correct Technique

Michael Hathaway, a Bon Secours physical therapist, has some tips to help you keep from hurting your muscles as you shovel snow.

  1. Warm up by marching in place and then stretching out your leg muscles for 1-2 minutes before you start.
  2. Do not round or hunch your back during the lift. 
  3. Keep your abs (stomach) tight before and during the lift and keep your back straight.
  4. Lift with your legs not your back.  Your back muscles are good for keeping your spine straight not lifting the load which is what happens when we bend our backs forward.  Your legs are big and powerful; they were made for lifting loads. You should feel your legs working more and getting tired, not your back.
  5. Don’t overload your shovel.  Lift loads small enough that you can handle without straining. Overloading the shovel is a sure way to injure your back.
  6. Pace yourself and take frequent rest breaks of 30-60 seconds every 3-5 minutes with longer breaks if the task exceeds 15-20 minutes

Risks

Injury from ice. You may slip on ice while you’re trying to shovel. If in your area the first layer of snow commonly melts and refreezes into ice, try to go out on the first day when everything is snow so you can more easily clear it away. Use rock salt or another de-icer to remove the risk, and use sand or kitty litter to provide traction.

Injury from shoveling. You may be sore after shoveling, but you shouldn’t feel injured. Improper shoveling can result in back/shoulder pain. Follow the tips listed above to stay safe.

Heart issues from shoveling.
If you have a trouble catching your breath, heart disease, or high blood pressure, skip the shoveling and talk to your doctor to get checked out. Shoveling, or any type of exercise you’re not used to, can raise your blood pressure and put a strain on your heart.